06 March 2024

2024 Budget Overview: A rabbit-less Budget that does little to shift the dial

Mike Robb

The most trailed Budget in recent memory saw very little in the Chancellor’s speech we hadn’t already heard, with the fiscal rabbits remaining soundly asleep in their Number 11 hutch.

This was the last chance saloon for the Chancellor and his Government to make an impact that could turn public opinion in their favour. Even closing the gap to Labour’s poll lead of just over 20% would give the Conservatives a fighting chance – perhaps not of overall victory, but of yielding a result that would make it very difficult for Labour to govern effectively with no or a very slim majority.

The Chancellor’s calculation seems to be that at this stage setting out an ideological battleground is their best bet: a vote for us [Conservatives] is a vote for more money in your pockets, maintained levels of spending on public services and a party with a plan; a vote for them [Labour] is a vote for higher taxes, a bigger state and a party with no plan – something he was at pains to repeat countless times at the dispatch box. Whether or not this is believable on the doorstep remains to be seen.

So the cliched battlegrounds have been set, and there was much here to tangibly support this narrative: tax cuts, sustained public spending, child benefit reform, extension of fuel and alcohol duty – all putting money back in the pockets of ordinary people.

For his part, Sir Keir Starmer outlined a government “asking the British public to pay more and more for less and less”, calling this Budget “the last desperate act of a party that has failed”, and reaction from commentators feels more aligned to the Labour leader’s way of thinking.

Are Tory activists going to cheer today’s measures as they take it to doorsteps across the country? Wishful thinking, perhaps, with the National Insurance cut in the Autumn having no impact on the polls, something I suspect won’t be any different this time around.

Turning the tide of dissatisfaction required much, much more than we heard from Jeremy Hunt today, and without the fiscal headroom in his locker to deliver it, I suspect we will look back at today’s Budget as largely forgettable.

To read the Boldspace analysis of the 2024 Budget, click here.